Expansive Poetry & Music Online Classic Reprint

Aemelia Lanyer's
Eve's Apologie in Defense of Women


Last issue there was an error printed regarding an Elizabethan poet described as "Marie" Lanier. Her name was not Marie, but Emilia. Her work was not lost, but has been released in a complete poems from several publishers, including Oxford. She may or may not have been the subject of the Dark Mistress sequence of Shakespeare's sonnets. She may have expressed considerable distaste for his handling of the material, according to Aliki and Willis Barnstone (in A Book of Women Poets, from Antiquity to Now, Schocken Books, 1980). Her longest work, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, of 1611, a retelling of the story of Christ, also includes the following, a marvelous reinterpretation of Eve (see Annie Finch's Eve (review in Archives) for a book that proceeds with a similar theme, a reinterpretation of women in myth and religion).

Lanier's birth name was Emilia Bassano; her married name came from Alphonso Lanier, a court musician to Elizabeth I. The late playwright Tennessee Lanier Williams counted this couple (and Sidney Lanier) as distant cousins on his mother's side. Her 76 years comprised a long life by standards of the time. And in it, as the daughter of a court musician perhaps, she received an extensive education. Little else is known about her life, or of her relationship with Shakespeare, which the editor of the Oxford edition of her poems disputes. One can imagine, however, that they met during a court performance of one of the plays, with her husband one of the musicians. Whether it was Shakespeare's considerable imagination, building an occasional meeting into art, or a hot jealousy, or an actual love affair cannot really be known, nor does it much matter to either one of them, who require no biography to enjoy their work.

The following is the Eve sequence from Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. Lanier skillfully, and with the logical precision Elizabethans were noted for, used the myth itself to demonstrate that if it's followed precept and detail then men, by their dominant position in the story of Adam and Eve, were responsible for the Fall. Further, she notes, it was men who killed the Son of God, surely a greater sin than the acquisition of knowledge by eating from the Tree. Then she brings the poem to an end, suggesting that, in the light of the religious myth itself, men ought to let go of their domination and acknowledge the equality of women, overturning an oppressive interpretation of a religious myth with a convincing presentation, as well as making a poem that sounds lovely aloud. (Note: apparently irregular spellings are regular Elizabethan-era usage; it is interesting how these spellings carefully instruct on how words are to sound. Note also: "apologie" is here used with the French sense of the word, which is close to the legal sense of the word "case." Lanier is here presenting a brief for Eve.)

Eve's Apologie
	by Emilia Lanier, 1611

Till now your indiscretion sets us free
And makes our former fault much less appeare;
Our Mother Eve, who tasted of the Tree,
Giving to Adam what shee held most deare,
Was simply good, and had no powre to see,
That after-comming harm did not appeare:
	The subtill Serpent that our Sex betraide,
	Before our fall so sure a plot had laide.

That undiscerning Ignorance perceav'd
No guile, or craft that was by him intended;
For had she knowne, of what we were bereav'd,
To his request she had not condiscended.
But she (poor soule) by cunning was deceav'd,
No hurt therein her harmelesse Heart intended:
	For she alleadg'd God's word, which he denies
	That they should die, but even as Gods, be wise.

But surely Adam can not be excusde,
Her fault though great, yet hee was most to blame:
What weaknesse offered, Strength might have refusde,
Being Lord of all, the greater was his shame:
Although the Serpent's craft had her abusde,
God's holy word ought all his actions frame,
	For he was Lord and King of all the earth,
	Before poore Eve had either life or breath.

Who being fram'd by God's eternall hand,
The perfect'st man that ever breath'd on earth;
And from God's mouth receiv'd that strait command,
The breach whereof he knew was present death:
Yea having powre to rule both Sea and Land,
Yet with one Apple wonne to loose that breath
	Which God had breathed in his beauteous face,
	Bringing us all in danger and disgrace.

And then to lay the fault on Patience backe,
That we (poore women) must endure it all;
We know right well he did discretion lack,
Being not perswaded thereunto at all;
If Eve did erre, it was for knowledge sake,
The fruit being faire perswaded him to fall:
	Not subtill Sperent's falsehood did betray him,
	If he would eate it, who had powre to stay him?

Not Eve, whose fault was onely too much love,
Which made her give this present to her Deare,
That what shee tasted, he likewise might prove,
Whereby his knowledge might become more cleare;
He never sought her weakenesse to reprove
With those sharpe words, which he of God did heare:
	Yet Men will boast of Knowledge, which he tooke
	From Eve's fair hand, as from a learned Booke.

If any Evill did in her remaine,
Beeing made of him, he was the ground of all;
If one of many Worlds could lay a staine
Upon our Sexe, and worke so great a fall
To wretched Man, by Satan's subtill traine;
What will so fowle a fault amongst you all?
	Her weakenesse did the Serpent's words obay,
	But you in malice God's deare Sonne betray.

Whom, if unjustly you condemne to die,
Her sinne was small, to what you doe commit:
All mortal sinnes that doe for vengeance crie,
Are not to be compared unto it:
If many worlds would altogether trie,
By all their sinnes the wrath of God to get;
	This sinne of yours, surmounts them all as expansivepoetryonline.com/journal/indexjournal.html
	As does the Sunne, another littlle starre.

Then let us have our Libertie againe,
And challendge to your selves no Sov'raigntie;
You came not in the world without our paine,
Make that a barre against your crueltie;
Your fault being greater, why should you disdaine
Our beeing your equals, free from tyranny?
	If one weake woman simply did offend,
	This sin of ours, hath no excuse, nor end.

	Emilia Lanier

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